Japanese library inspired by forests celebrates communal learning

A new library and community center in Nasushiobara by the Japanese architecture studio of Mari Ito, UAo, takes its cues from forests

The Nasushiobara library at night which features a kite-style roof and ground to roof panel windows.
(Image credit: Daici Ano)

The city of Nasushiobara has just got a new library and community centre courtesy of the dynamic Japanese architecture studio of Mari Ito, UAo. A geometric composition out of glass, metal and timber, the building feels at once modern and at home in its wider context – as its design, explains the architect, has been inspired by forests, which are ‘an important part of the city’s identity.' 

Turning a green leaf

A glass enclosure wrapping around the building creates a semi-transparent border, which allows glimpses through to what's happening inside (like peeking through trees) and keeps climatic conditions safe and comfortable for books and people. At the same time, the openness, which continues internally supported by tall ceilings and large, flowing interiors, is accentuated by the large roof canopy that covers the whole structure. Its geometric folds and angles brings to mind an abstracted forest canopy, under which life unfolds. 

The fairly large scale structure (at a total floor area of some 5,000 sq m) has been organised around, what its creator calls, ‘forest pockets'. ‘When we step into a forest, we sense the subtle yet constant changes in season, weather, and plant and animal life, absorbing these transformations in multiple emotionally powerful ways,' say the architects. ‘Similarly, as visitors walk freely through the library, they experience layers of subtle changes unfolding across softly defined borders, from the aphorisms and other exhibits displayed at various locations in the building to the activities and other human-caused transformations taking place.'

Inside the Japanese library with its interior featuring wooden furniture including tables, floor to ceiling box-style shelves, and floor to ceiling windows.

(Image credit: Daici Ano)

A learning environment

At the same time, the new library and centre has been finely tuned to serve its community and purpose. Spanning two floors, the building interior is defined by its expressive wooden shelving system – at places appearing very tall, reaching double heights, and at others peeking over the floor at much lower levels, so that people can look over and connect visually with the environment. These bookshelf configurations forms the backbone of the interior, acting as centrepiece features, partitions and functional storage.

Their arrangement across the floor also mirrors the pie charts used in the Japanese library classification system. This helps with ‘improving searchability and enabling circulation routes that cut across the categorized stacks.'

Addressing the new roles of modern libraries – a place for friends to meet, a vibrant hub for the wider community, a multi-platform centre for learning – the Nasushiobara library and centre plans to be much more than ‘just' a building to house books. Sparking interaction, promoting knowledge and strengthening community ties, this new building is set to inspire and prove a powerful resource for all locals.

A close-up of the building with a pathway leading to the entrance. The front fascade is predominantly made up of glass window panels.

(Image credit: Daici Ano)

The Nasushiobara library view through the bookcases

(Image credit: Daici Ano)

The Nasushiobara library reading room which features wood tables and floor to roof wood bookshelves.

(Image credit: Daici Ano)

The Nasushiobara library seating area with semi-circle wood seating, book shelves, and a wood ceiling that curves into the room.

(Image credit: Daici Ano)

A close-up of the front of the Library.

(Image credit: Daici Ano)



Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).

With contributions from